Home > Columns > Quarter Days: Christmas

Greetings to my fellow history nerds. It’s time for another installment of my quarterly blog on historical topics.

In past posts, I talked about the English Quarter Days of Midsummer’s Day and Michaelmas.

Father Christmas with the Yule Log, 1848

To refresh your memory, Quarter Days were the four days during the year when rents were paid, servants hired, and contracts commenced. The last Quarter Day of the calendar year was the grand holiday of Christmas. Though the Quarter Day was December 25th, Christmas celebrations went on for twelve days.

Kissing under the Mistletoe

Christmas Romance

We romance authors flood the lists every year with Christmas novellas, and not just the contemporary lists. Christmas Regency romances abound and sell well. But how to get the details right for our hero and heroine? How did the Christmas celebrations aid or interfere with a Regency hero’s wooing? How did they celebrate Christmas?

Before the Regency

As I pointed out in an earlier post, Christmas falls around the time of the winter solstice. The pagan festivities of the season were Bacchanalian revels of feasting and drinking and other wicked practices. To encourage some order, the early Christian church designated December 25th as a religious holiday.

So, people went to church…and then they feasted, drank, and engaged in other wicked practices.

Under the Puritan rule that resulted from the 17th century English Civil War, the observance of Christmas was banned. The Lord High Protector of England, Oliver Cromwell, and his Puritan cohorts decided that English people needed to be protected from carnal delights of holiday celebrations. Christmas became a regular workday. Anyone celebrating could be subject to penalty.

The Puritans carried this attitude across the Pond. Christmas was illegal in their American colonies also.

With the restoration to the throne of Charles II (a man greatly given to Bacchanalian revels), Christmas was also restored in the English calendar of holidays.

The Man Who Invented Christmas

Christmas as we know it was documented by Charles Dickens, author of A Christmas Carol. I haven’t seen the movie yet, but I’ve dipped into the book by Les Standiford. In the story of Scrooge and Tiny Tim, Dickens brought to life the quintessential picture of a Victorian Christmas.

But if you’re writing a Regency-set Christmas romance, don’t pull out your copy of Dickens and copy his story world. To quote a post I wrote a couple of years ago:

Decorating with evergreen boughs and mistletoe (and kissing under the mistletoe!), wassailing, acting out pantomimes, and singing carols, were very likely part of the Regency holiday celebration…Christmas trees and Santa Claus did not become popular until Victorian times.

Click on the link to read the rest of that post.

A Visit from St. Nicholas

Or, as we know it, ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas, was written by an American, Clement Clarke Moore, in 1823. Dutch and German holiday traditions influenced the celebration of Christmas earlier in America than in England. Prince Albert, Victoria’s German prince, is credited with popularizing the Christmas tree in England.

Pictures worth a thousand words

Dickens brought us A Christmas Carol in 1843, but check out this series of illustrations by cartoonist George Cruikshanks. Even before Scrooge made his appearance, the early Victorians were holding over-the-top celebrations of the Twelve Days of Christmas.

No matter what holiday you celebrate, I wish you all the best in this season of holidays! I’ll be back in March to talk about Lady Day.

 

 

All Images courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

8 Comments

  • Linda McLaughlin
    on December 28, 2017 Reply

    Great post, Alina.

    • Author
      Alina K. Field
      on December 29, 2017 Reply

      Thanks, Linda.

  • Diane Burton
    on December 29, 2017 Reply

    Fun facts, Alina.

    • Author
      Alina K. Field
      on December 29, 2017 Reply

      Thanks for stopping by, Diane!

  • Veronica Jorge
    on December 29, 2017 Reply

    Hi Alina, I really enjoyed reading your post and learning about the history of Christmas celebrations, the out-of-control behaviors, banning, etc. I never knew that. Knowing the history behind our holidays really helps to set things in perspective and makes us reflect on why we keep the traditions that we do, and whether or not to continue in them. I look forward to your next post about Lady Day. Happy New Year. (When did we start celebrating that day?)

    • Author
      Alina K. Field
      on December 29, 2017 Reply

      Hi, Veronica, if you mean when did we start celebrating Lady Day, it’s an early Christian holiday, the Feast of the Annunciation. If you mean New Year’s that’s a different story. If I’m remembering correctly, the new year didn’t always start on January 1st, but I can’t remember the details on that!

      • Marianne
        on December 29, 2017 Reply

        Oh, I do! New Years used to be celebrated on the First Day of Spring. But when we changed from the Julian calendar to the Gregorian’s calendar, New Years change to January 1st. That’s why September, October, November and December are named the 7th, 8th, 9th and 10th months—even though they no longer are. While the Gregorian calendar was introduced in October 1582, we didn’t start using it until September 1752. April Fools were people who still celebrated the New Year in the Spring.

        • Veronica Jorge
          on December 31, 2017 Reply

          Wow, Marianne, that’s great info. Hmm, wonder what stories might surface from this. Happy New Year in winter. Glad we’re no April Fools.

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